Regional land use policy released

NEARLY 18 months after imposing a moratorium on coal seam gas approvals in New South Wales, the state government has released its strategic regional land use policy.

The policy was the result of a long consultation period which garnered more than 2000 public submissions and saw more than 1100 people attend public forums.

Planning Minister Brad Hazzard and North Coast Minister Don Page were this week promoting the policy as a world's best package aiming to find the balance between the environment, resources and farming sectors.

Today, APN Newsdesk takes a look at the detail of the policy proposal.

It will create maps of the state's best agricultural land, based on the soil type, slopes, and local characteristics such as land, water flows, water licences and agricultural production values of the immediate area.

The mapped land then will become part of regional land use plans for all areas of the state and while some regions have already been completed, consultation on the maps for the far and mid north coast will not begin until early next year.

Once mapped, the new regional plans will create a "gateway trigger", demanding all resource projects undergo an upfront assessment at the start of the exploration process, rather than as part of the production licence application.

The gateway process will mean resource projects in mapped areas will have to meet criteria to go ahead on the basis of a scientific assessment by an "independent, expert panel".

If the panel considers the proposal does not meet the criteria, it can issue a certificate with conditions, which then have to be addressed by the miner or CSG company as part of the development application.

Until the maps are officially approved, the north coast regions will be relying on the existing regional land use plans.

Despite the wait, all mining and CSG proposals will have to assess any impacts on farming, as part of an agriculture impact statement (AIS).

This statement will form part of the normal mining and CSG proposal application process, and should mean all projects address various issues including land and water characteristics, agricultural production, weed management and evidence of consultation.

The new Aquifer Interference Policy will apply to the north coast, as part of its expansion across the state.

It sets out "minimal impact considerations", against which the government's water office will assess any potential impacts from resource projects, including on groundwater.

Alongside all of these parts of the package, there will be a land and water commissioner appointed to provide independent advice to the community and government about mining and CSG proposals.

But while providing local guidance on resource proposals and oversee land access negotiations, the commissioner will not be required to seek scientific advice on such proposals, or potential effects on the local environment or agricultural values.

Government documents do show the commissioner can seek such advice from the chief scientist and engineer, and all government agencies, but the conditions do not demand it.

While the package has not changed the current ban on BTEX chemicals in CSG processes, it has again opened the door for hydraulic fracturing practices (fracking) in CSG operations.

The new package will be enforced and promoted by a team of 40 new compliance and community liaison public service employees.

A standard land access agreement for exploration activity is also currently being drawn up by the CSG industry and state farm lobby.

For more information about the policy, go to: www.nsw.gov.au/strategicregionallanduse



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